Survey Software vs. Online Survey Services

By Ryan Goodrich
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If you've had a history of creating paper surveys, you're likely unfamiliar with what goes into online surveys. If you've only ever used online surveys, you're likely unfamiliar with why paper surveys are still used. Here's a quick explanation of the points in the argument for survey software vs. online survey services.

 

Usability

One of the most obvious differences between online survey services and survey software is the usability of the survey. How you present your questions to an audience vary between methods. Survey software tends toward an on-paper type format that requires shorter lengths and will be legible when printed. Electronic surveys are displayable on multiple screen resolutions, font sizes and monitor sizes.

Paper surveys are designed to make the most of all the real estate on a piece of paper. You can make use of all corners of a page without issue. Web-based surveys, however, are constrained by a vertical-only requirement. Web users have no problem scrolling up and down on a page, but anything that requires left and right scrolling is likely to be met with resistance.

Response Rates

If you've never done an electronic survey before, you'll likely notice a huge difference in response times. Depending on the audience, the purpose of the survey and the notification method, survey results can appear within minutes of delivery. This allows institutes and businesses alike to conduct an entire survey in a matter of days.

Paper-based surveys can take several weeks to several months to distribute, collect and upload. This difference is incredibly important to note because it will affect the objectives of the survey.

Question Structures

Online survey services provide better control of survey questions than paper surveys do. In addition to options like radio buttons and check boxes, you can also make use of dropdown lists and a variety of response-based behaviors, such as question branching. Depending on how a survey participant responds to one question, that participant will be presented with a different follow-up question that other respondents with other responses wouldn't encounter.

Taking question styles from survey software doesn't leverage the advantages web surveys offer. Asking people to provide text-based subjective feedback is easier online because people are more comfortable with typing quick responses, whereas on-paper survey participants often don't want to take the time.

Instrument Bias

Every survey introduces a bias. Telephone surveys can be biased by the tone and demeanor of the person asking the questions. This also limits your audience to people with listed phones. Paper surveys likewise introduce bias, requiring participants to be able to read and write. Web surveys require the same, but also limit participants to those with basic computer skills and access to the internet.

Most surveys aren't really affected by the instrument bias. For example, if you perform an online survey determining the job satisfaction of technology workers, the bias will likely be quite minimal.

The good thing is that internet-based surveys are becoming increasingly popular as the number of people with internet across the United States approaches the number of people needed to provide adequate samplings across many of our nation's subsets of society.

 
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